THE ORIGI ALITY OF JESUS G. H.

MORRISO

THE claims of Jesus to originality have been a constant subject of discussion, and never has that discussion been more eager than it is in Christendom to-day. Does Jesus of azareth stand alone, in isolated and incommunicable grandeur ? How far is He indebted to the past, of His own land and of the broader world ? And if we were thoroughly familiar with that past, and could trace the play of its influence on Christ, should we be able to account for Christ, and for His influence upon humanity ? It is such questions that are widely asked, and to such questions there are various answers. There are some men to whom it seems irreverence to debate the originality of Jesus. But there are others who have been so impressed by the thousand anticipations of His doctrine, that one of their arguments against the gospel is a flat denial of Christ s originality. u

306 THE ORIGI ALITY OF JESUS Of course this attitude towards Jesus Christ is not by any means a modern one. Our modern arguments, that seem of yesterday, are generally a good deal older than we think. One of the cleverest and cleanest enemies that Christianity has ever had, lived in the second century after Christ, probably when Marcus Aurelius was emperor. He was a second-century Voltaire. He was a Greek, and his name was Celsus. With

argument, with ridicule, with banter, he attacked this new and odious superstition, and one of his great arguments is this, that Jesus was an audacious plagiarist. ot only had He stolen His best from Plato, but He had utterly spoiled it in the stealing. 1 That was eighteen hundred years ago, and Celsus has had many children. Wherever scepticism has been strong, the originality of Christ has been denied. And vigorously it is denied to-day, not only because many are sceptical to-day, but because of two features of this present time, to which I ask your attention for a moment. In the first place, this is an age whose know1 Vide Origen. contra Celsum, vn. Iviii. The subject has been recently handled in an interesting way in Glover, Conflict of Religions in the Early Roman Empire (Methuen, 1909) viii.

THE ORIGI ALITY OF JESUS 307 ledge of ancient faiths is very great. We are familiar with a thousand facts which not so long ago were inaccessible. The wisdom of the East is in our hands. We have the sacred books of China and of India. We have learned the faith of ancient Babylonia. We have seen the far-off Semite at his worship. And all this knowledge of the heart of man, in its passionate and un dying cry for God, has affected, as it could not fail to do, our thoughts of the originality of Christ. To us, who look on Him as the eternal Word, it is a joy to find that He has been anticipated. It means that God, who dwelt in Jesus bodily, has never left Himself without a witness. But if men are bent on finding fault with Christ, you see how that added knowledge can assist them. It gives them an unequalled

opportunity of proving that His word has been forestalled. And then there is this second feature character ising our thought and life to-day. It is the intertexture of our age with the great idea of evolution. To many of us that idea is dominating. It is the master-light of all our seeing. It is the method of God by which He works, and in the light of which a thousand things are plain. And the

308 THE ORIGI ALITY OF JESUS whole tendency of evolution working upon the mind unconsciously, is to incline us to account for all that is, through everything which in the past has been. Once more I say, and I say it with all my heart, that you cannot account for Jesus Christ that way. There is something un accountable in Christ ; something that confronts us as from heaven. But if men deny that if they are sceptical if they want to belittle or discredit Christ, you see what a weapon of attack there is in the splendid armoury of evolution. It is such features of our present thought that have sharpened the onset on Christ s originality. ever was it debated with such learning ; never with such genuine conviction. And yet, re member, the strategy is old, as old as Celsus with his polished rapier ; and Celsus for all his clever ness is dead, and Jesus in a million hearts is living. ow the great question we ought to face is this what do we mean by originality ? Half of the quarrels that have rent the world have hinged upon imperfect definition. By an original teacher do you mean one who says what was never said before ? By an original thinker do you mean one whose thoughts are absolutely new ? If that

be your conception of the matter, then neither

THE ORIGI ALITY OF JESUS 309 you nor I nor any man could reasonably hold for half an hour that there was originality in Jesus. It would be the worst service that you could do to Christ, if you could prove Him original in that sense. Manhood is never great when it is isolated. It is dishonoured when it disowns its heritage. A life is rich when it is like a river, into whose current have come a hundred brooks ; and yet the music and beauty of the river are different from those of every rivulet. Disowning the great past, one may be smart. Disowning it, one never can be great. There are the voices of a thousand years in every char acter that is sublime. And if you hold that Jesus was sublime if nothing can ever shake your faith in that you must see to it that you preserve His grandeur in your conception of originality. ow suppose for a moment we turn to Shake speare to illustrate what I am aiming at. 1 I shall 1 I might equally well have taken Milton. The spirit in Comus says: I will tell you now What never yet was heard in tale or song From old or modern bard, in hall or bower. Yet the indebtedness of Comus to previous poets, from Homer to George Peele, is clearly traced.

310 THE ORIGI ALITY OF JESUS take it that you believe with me in the supreme originality of Shakespeare. What then is his relation to the past ? Did he cut himself utterly away from it? He is indebted to the past in every play. He is indebted to the past on every page. He borrowed from every quarter freely. He took his plots and characters from others. ow he would recast an older play. ow he would turn to Plutarch or to Holinshed. And the strange thing is that though he borrowed thus, and put himself in the debt of all the past, he is supreme in his originality, the greatest creative genius of our race. It is the poet him self who is the new thing. It is his personality that is original. All that is his in the long past he seizes, selecting with swift and certain instinct. And he passes it through his poetic fires, where in the glowing furnace it is purified, and now it shall be different for ever, and different because he is Shakespeare. Shakespeare has not destroyed, he has fulfilled. In his own sphere he has made all things new. He has touched the lead, and it has turned to gold. He has taken the carbon, and it is a diamond. And he has done it because of what he was ; because of the genius that was

THE ORIGI ALITY OF JESUS 311 his from heaven. Search for the source of his originality, and you find it in his personality. 1 ow I always hesitate to draw comparisons where one of the two to be compared is Christ, and yet it is only along such lines as these that you will guard our Lord s originality. He is

not original because He said what no one had ever said before. He is not original because He did what no one had ever dreamed of doing. He is original ; He is the new creation ; He is the new fact in human history. And just because of that He takes the old, and, touching it, it is for ever new. I am not shocked when I discover parallels to all the choicest sayings of the Lord. If truth is eternal, and if God is one, that is what I should reasonably look for. It is to Christ Himself there is no parallel ; there is nothing like Him on the stage of history ; so free from the slightest consciousness of sin ; so flooded with the consciousness of God. It was that which made such a profound impression, as Jesus moved along the ways of Galilee. There was 1 Vide Lowell, My Study Windows, on Chaucer. For a handling of the subject by a master, see Fairbairn, The Philosophy of the Christian Religion, Introduction.

312 THE ORIGI ALITY OF JESUS a charm about Him a certain quiet authority a certain sense of distance and of depth. And men recalled the prophets when they heard Him, and they caught the echoes of familiar psalms, yet everything was clad in a new glory the glory of the Only Begotten of the Father. ow let me illustrate this true originality in one or two departments of Christ s life. And let us think, in the first place, of His language. There are two ways in which one can be original in the kind of language which he uses. He may betake himself to unfamiliar speech, or he may re create the common speech around him. There are writers whose every page has its distinction,

yet they never captivate the common heart. Their words are jewels, exquisitely cut, too costly and too curious for the crowd. But there are others who can take common speech, and deepen it, and light it up with glory, and the originality of all the greatest is an originality like that. eed I tell you which was the way of Christ ? Was he a coiner of unfamiliar terms? He took the speech of ploughman and of fishermen the speech of the village street and of the home. And then He breathed upon it with the breath of life, and, like

THE ORIGI ALITY OF JESUS 313 the mustard seed, it sprang and spread, till there was the sound of singing in the branches, sweeter than any carolling of birds. When he found talent, it was a sum of money ; but now a talent is something more than silver. When he found peace, it was a salutation ; and when He left it, it was a beatitude. When He found * cross, it was a word of misery, dark with tragedy and wet with tears ; and when He left it, it was a word of glory, the hope of earth, the gateway into heaven. The words were old and yet the words were new ; and they were new just because Christ was new. He took them, and passed them through His heart, where God in secret had His dwellingplace. And like the maiden who was not dead but sleeping, they woke, for they were sleeping too, and life was something different for them now, for they had wakened at the call of Jesus. Again, to go a little deeper, shall we pass from language to the ideas of Christ ? Take, for in stance, His highest thought of God Our Father which art in heaven. Was that a name which was absolutely new ? Had no one ever uttered

it before ? Why, it was one of the oldest names of God, back in the cradle of the Aryan race.

3 1 4 THE ORIGI ALITY OF JESUS And every villager in Galilee had heard it, as he sat in his synagogue upon the Sabbath day, for the prophets had used it, and the psalmists too, and it was enshrined in the Old Testament. If Jesus Christ had been a revolutionary, think you would He have used that ancient name ? Out of His infinite knowledge of the deity, might He not easily have drawn another ? But that is just what Jesus never did if He was of God, the past was of God also ; and to disown the yearning of the past, would have been not to fulfil but to destroy. Christ took the word Father that He found. Christ breathed upon it with the breath of life. Christ lit it with the light that He had seen when He moved in heaven before His Father s face. And from that hour the Father hood of God has been a truth so mighty and so comforting, that life is different, and death is different, and heaven shall be different for ever more. It was not new, yet Jesus made it new. The light in which it shone, was His light. He touched it with His peculiar glory, and it has borne that glory ever since. And that is the originality of Christ. It is He Himself that is so wonderful.

THE ORIGI ALITY OF JESUS 315 It is in Him that old things pass away, and all things become new. 1 In closing, and in a word or two, may I point

out to you what that means for us ? If you are a Christian, then in your life and character the originality of Jesus will be seen. It will not be seen in any singularity. It will not divorce you from your heritage. It will not invest you with a set of powers that were not yours before you trusted Him. But it will be seen in taking your old powers, which you could never use aright, or use at all, and breathing upon them with the breath of energy, till out of your weakness you are strong. You can never cut yourself away from yesterday : but Christ is here just to trans figure yesterday. He can take all your past even its failure and out of it bring music for to morrow. It is thus that a Christian in his own experience has a proof of the originality of Jesus. For the old is with him yet, but it is new ; and it is JESUS who has made it so. 1 Vide Lidgett, fatherhood of God, iv.

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